How to communicate effectively with your clients

July 15, 2009

Communication is probably the biggest factor in having your own business, graphic design or any other.

Your clients are going to relay information to you and they are going to expect you to take what they give you and make something mind blowing out of it. Of course, you’re capable of doing that! But sometimes a break in communication can cause your client to give you unclear directions, cause you to misread signals or give an overall bad impression. Here are some simple tips for communicating effectively with a client:

Choose the right place A noisy sports bar might not be the greatest place to meet your client when discussing an intricate project. Having a corporate client come to your home and talk business sitting on your futon may not make the greatest impression. Choose a location that is suitable for quiet conversation. Look for an establishment with tables large enough to have two laptops or spread out portfolio pieces. Stay away from places that have lots of TVs or that will have lots of children. You want the client to feel comfortable and not have to strain to speak or hear you.

Gather your thoughts and make notes before hand There are a lot of questions that you can ask your client to steer them in the right direction. A lot of my clients have an idea in their head of what they’d like to see from their project, but sometimes have not considered fine details such as color scheme, target market, printing costs or distribution. Being prepared with the right questions to ask can make this process a lot easier. I’ve found it helpful to e-mail my new clients a worksheet that allows them to gather their own thoughts and write them down on paper before the consultation. That way, they will come to the meeting better prepared. The bonus is that once they leave the paper with me, I’ll go to work with a clear understanding of what they’re looking for even if I start on the project days later.

Don’t use confusing jargon No client wants to feel stupid. Although they might not know much or anything about design, they can probably do one thing very well: tell you when they don’t like something. Making the client feel like they are part of the team by explaining fine details in laymen’s terms will help them feel more comfortable. Most of my clients don’t care how I get something done as long as I get it done correctly, but all of them appreciate when I take the time to explain the details that have to do with their timelines and their money. When a client thinks I care enough to be patient with them, they are more likely to be a repeat customer and offer referrals.

Get rid of distractions Put your phone on vibrate. Don’t have questionable websites up on your laptop when you know you’ll be using it as a part of the consultation. These are distractions that can take away from your great customer service skills and your impressive design work. If a client feels that you can’t conduct your own business in a professional manner, they are going to be less likely to want you to handle their business. Also, an interruptive phone call or instant message distraction can break a great train of thought and cause your client to be frustrated and impatient.

Listen This one seems obvious, but some people don’t take this one as seriously as they should. One of my biggest pet peeves is being interrupted. This shows me that the person, who is supposed to be listening, has their own agenda and their own presumptions on what they think I want. The same will go for your clients if you don’t let them speak uninterrupted. Allow them to finish their thoughts and then speak back. Don’t force your own opinions on the client; remember this is a time for you to get everything possible from your client about their needs right from their own mouth.

Reflect back to the client When a client describes their wants and needs in a project, make sure to let them know that you understand them by speaking back, using their own words. When speaking about a color scheme, a feeling or target audience, participate in the conversation after listening with similar words and phrases that were used by the client to let them know that you understand where they are coming from. Once you have an agreement from them, then you know that everyone is on the same page and your project will make sure to reflect the client’s wishes.

Thank the client for their time All people, especially business people, like to feel as if their time is being appreciated. They don’t have to choose you as their graphic artist, but they are doing so because they feel that you are the correct fit. Further assure them of this by being courteous and letting them know that their business is appreciated. After the meeting, you might want to follow up with an e-mail letting them know it was nice to meet them, or a mailed thank-you card after the final payment is made. This reassures them that you think they have been a great customer. I guarantee that small gesture will put you ahead of your competition. What do you think? Do you have any tips for communicating with your clients?

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